Just over a month ago I led a talk at Midem on what makes things shareable. As a marketer, I’m in a constant state of fascination over what makes us hit the like button sometimes but not others. So, what really drives us to share things? If we knew the answer to this then we’d all have an unfair advantage. Having analysed over 15,000 pieces of content in the music industry, and building a network of sites with over half a million readers, I’ve learnt a lot about what presses our buttons.


The six fundamental reasons why we share

To boil it down to basics, Jonah Berger, a Wharton School professor and NYT best-selling author of ‘Contagious’, broke it down into six categories. Jonah is, in my opinion, one of the smartest minds in word of mouth research and his thinking is leaps and bounds beyond what most social media gurus are advising. Here are Jonah’s six principles, which form the acronym ‘STEPPS’.

1. Social Currency – We prefer to look rich rather than poor, cool rather than uncool, smart rather than dumb. As such, we’re more likely to share content that affirms the traits we want others to see in us.

2. Triggers – What’s on the tip of our mind is on the tip of our tongue. Over the long run, toothpaste is more talked about than the time your boss walked into the office dressed as a pirate. While the latter is more remarkable, there are more triggers around toothpaste, so more word of mouth is generated about toothpaste.

3. Emotion – We share things that provoke strong emotional reactions.

4. Public – The more people that see what you’re doing, the more likely it is to spread virally.

5. Practical – We share things that offer practical value. We all like to be useful and help our friends and family. Guides like this one on mechanical royalties tend to work very well because they teach us something that helps us in our day-to-day lives.

6. Stories – Notice how we rarely talk to people in facts. Instead, we share stories.


How does this relate in the music industry?

To take this one step further and apply it to music, we simply need to understand the context that each of these points fits into. For example, from Venture Harbour’s research, it was clear that the most emotionally provocative content in the music industry was related to piracy, low royalties, and the challenges facing the music industry. Anger is a strong and stimulating emotion that often leads us to share – and piracy certainly provokes a lot of anger.

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Similarly, joy and excitement are both highly stimulating emotions. We get excited when our favourite artist announces something that provides us with a once in a lifetime opportunity. We feel joy when we find our favourite new song. When was the last time you shared something that made you mellow, bored, or relaxed? We rarely share content that provokes these emotions because they’re less stimulating.

When it comes to social currency, we need to think about what our updates would look like in a fan’s newsfeed. Would your fan want to be seen liking or sharing your update that said “We’ve just released our new song – download it here” – probably not.

But what if you re-framed the update to make your fans appear to be insiders? I can tell you from multiple split tests I’ve ran over the years that ‘Be the first to download X’ massively outperforms ‘We’ve just released X – download it here’. Simple changes in our vocabulary have massive implications on the outcomes. Making your fans look like insiders will increase the rate of sharing, because you’re adding more social currency into the equation.

You can go through the points above and question to what intensity does your campaign satisfy each one.


Best practices are rarely best practices

I used to enjoy reading posts that told me exactly how to do things. When I read advice like what’s written above, I’d anxiously question “okay I understand why, but how do I do it?”

I’ve come to realise that ironically, best practices tend not to remain best practices for long, as they often becomes overused. What’s considered best practice in creative fields is usually a polite way of saying ‘how to be mediocre’. In other words, I don’t want to dive to deeply into the tactics here as the most creative solutions rarely come from people telling you how to do things. Use the strategies to form your own tactics.

That said, there are a few concepts that are worth mentioning.
– If you want people to engage, reduce the barriers to entry

If you want someone to do something, make it easy for them to do so – or reward them appropriately for how much effort they need to invest. An old client of mine used to require people to sign up to their site before they could comment on a blog post. Once we removed this roadblock, comments increased by over 180%.

The same applies to sharing. Make it easy for your readers, listeners, subscribers, or whatever they may be to share and create word of mouth. This is not just about putting the like button in the most visible place or using ‘sticky’ floating share bars.

It’s also about creating the story for them. Make it easy for your fans by giving them something remarkable worth talking about.
– Know which formats and platforms work for you

Over the past 2 years, we’ve produced a lot of infographics for our music clients. Why? Well, they work. I was recently having a conversation with a well-known music journalist who criticised the overuse of infographics. While I don’t disagree, I have data showing that, on average, they are the best performing format of content in the music industry. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they work.

Given how much data is freely available, I think smart labels and artists should obsess over the 80/20 rule to out-think their competition. Know what the 20% of your marketing strategy is generating 80% of the publicity. With all of the analytics tools around, it’s easy to work out, but most aren’t doing it.

On a related note, know which platforms are most effective for you. A lot of social media gurus aimlessly advice using Facebook, or Twitter, or blogging because big data studies say so. A good example of this is Venture Harbour’s online presence. As a digital marketing agency, we don’t have a massively active Facebook Page. It’s just not the right platform for us. However, our blog receives hundreds of thousands of visits. Spending a few hours writing a post like this is almost guaranteed to trump an hour invested into our Facebook page.

Conversely, many of our clients are the opposite. They don’t actively run blogs because their time is far better invested on other platforms.

Take best practices with a pinch of salt – and find out what truly works for you by measuring the right things and working backwards from there.



Marcus Taylor is the founder of Venture Harbour, a digital marketing agency that specialises in working with companies in the entertainment industries. In 2013 Marcus was the winner of Midem’s Young Visionary of the Year contest, and spoke at Midem Academy this year on “Creating shareable content in the music industry”. Follow Venture Harbour on Twitter here, and Marcus here.


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